Tuesday, December 16, 2003

Thank God at least one reviewer is, David Elliott of the San Diego Union Tribune, is taking a stand against the LOTR fangasm:

    Here is an epic that divides viewers, maybe more than the "Matrix" films. Its many young fans, who did not grow up on "Lawrence of Arabia" and "The Godfather" or even "Star Wars," revel in "awesome" visuals and slow, backfilling narrative.

    You can't blame people (like a few Lordites who called to tell me I was too old to really relish the series) for not having seen movies made before they were born, but some perspective beyond the Tolkien or fan-site kind does help you evaluate Jackson's film achievement.

    It was my awareness of what Coppola, Lean, Gance, Kobayashi and other creators of epics have done that helped prompt questions in my head, as the latest film rolled along. Call them snarky, but they may be pertinent:

    Since we know that cute Frodo must save mankind by returning the gold ring to Mount Doom, why the endless padding of "heroic" suspense? Jackson really thinks we needed such touches as the episode with a huge spider worthy of a '50s monster film (reputedly he's an arachnophobe).

    Details, details (Jackson loves them): How come good guys are essentially defined by ears (usually pointed) and bad guys by teeth (nearly all grotesque)? You could gnaw greasy steel wool for 2,000 years and not have teeth like these.

    Why is hero Frodo (Elijah Wood) often so wan and floppy, as if in need of smelling salts? Why is he so slow to notice that creepy mini-nudist Gollum is no friend? And his pal Sam (Sean Astin) calling him "Mr. Frodo" starts to seem like a joke.

    Why does the villainy, though large, lack stature? With evil Saruman not back again (and Christopher Lee is mad as blazes about it), we're stuck with Sauron, nearly as dark and abstract as the monolith in "2001," plus gruesome Orcs and medieval mammoths.

    Why, in these many realms, are the only viable occupations warfare, sorcery, music and carousing? Who built and sustains these mountain-scaling keeps (perhaps Merlin, the original digitalizer)?


    Jackson has achieved not Tolkien. He has made a cornucopian and corny hash of Tolkien, old John Martin spectacle paintings, head comix, Arthurian tales, Bob Howard macho-lit, New Zealand travelogues, Thomas Kinkade kitsch, '30s serials and the mountain films of Leni Riefenstahl, whose spirit hovers over the grand shots of relay bonfires on snowy peaks.

    "Lord" is All Epic, All the Time. Jackson loves battles, which means: hurling dense masses of mostly computerized fighters at one another. "How are the battles?," he recently asked a British reporter about "Master and Commander," and one hopes the reporter had the sense to tell him that Peter Weir's sea saga involves realistic men fighting a historical war with only modest help from special effects; nothing seems cartooned, and death, though bravely won, is not mythic.

This may be the best bit:

    Impressively mounted, technically dazzling, the series also italicizes in neon every feeling, while some characters (like a gloomy, inept king) function as filler.

Preach on, brother! Ever Lordite who says these are the best movies that absolutely ever were should be strapped down, Clockwork Orange-style, and forced to watch Lost in Translation until they Get It.

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